MamaOT is proud to introduce its newest guest blogger, Abby Brayton-Chung. Abby is a pediatric occupational therapist who works in early intervention (0-3 years) and school-based settings. She’s excited to share a school OT’s perspective on what you can do with your kids this summer to make sure they enjoy themselves, develop some new skills, and come back to school ready to learn!
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With the end of the school year and the official start of summer behind us, parents are now facing long summer days with the kids at home. What to do with all of that unstructured time? While your child may not receive occupational therapy services at school, here are five recommendations from a school OT to keep all children active and ready to learn this summer.
1. Get moving.
Kids need physical activity to grow and learn. With the rise in childhood obesity, as well as shrinking physical education classes in schools, summer is a great time to develop healthy habits. Take a walk as a family after dinner, go to the park for a play date, swim at the local pool, or join a parks and recreation sports team. For children with special needs, sports can provide great opportunities for social interaction with peers, as well as developing healthy habits and learning new motor skills. For fidgety children, structured physical activity throughout the day can help with maintaining attention for learning.
Since kids love to be active, why not incorporate movement into summer learning activities? Set up an obstacle course outside or in your living room that involves matching colors, reading sight words, solving math problems or whatever academic skill your child could benefit from working on over the summer. Make it fun, add some movement, and they won’t even realize they are learning!
2. Get messy.
Just as children learn through movement, children also learn from exploration through their senses. By getting hands-on and getting messy, children will learn more about their environment and the world that surrounds them. Provide your children with lots of opportunities for sensory exploration this summer. Go to the beach and build a sand castle. Dig in the dirt, plant a garden, and stop to smell the roses. Draw with sidewalk chalk or finger paint. Pick and taste fresh berries. Make cookies. Not only is it fun to get messy, many of these activities also help develop strength, fine motor and visual motor skills too! Want to work on academic skills while getting messy? Practice writing letters or numbers in shaving cream, sand, or finger paint. Using a multisensory approach to writing will help solidify correct letter formation skills for your child. That, in turn, will make them more successful at handwriting in school!
3. Color on the walls.
Ok, so you probably don’t want your kids to take that brand new box of crayons and create a mural on your wall, but please hear me out. Coloring or writing on a vertical surface, such as a wall or easel, can help improve your child’s pencil grasp, increase wrist strength and encourage the use of the small muscles of the hands when coloring. These are foundational skills that will help develop good handwriting skills, which your child’s teacher will appreciate when school starts back up in the fall!
4. Practice a new motor skill.
Whether it’s shoe tying, jumping rope, riding a bike, or learning to surf, summer is the perfect time to practice, practice, and practice some more! For some children, learning a new motor skill seems to come naturally. For others, it takes lots and lots of practice and repetition. Summer is a great time to focus on a new skill. Make it fun and practice for just a few minutes a day. Consider it your child’s homework for summer. It’s much easier to practice shoe tying during the lazy days of summer than when you’re rushing out the door to get to school on time!
5. Develop hand muscles.
With the focus on academics from the very early school years, teachers just don’t have the time to make sure children fully develop hand strength and fine motor skills. Use summer break to exercise those hands, so they can be successful at holding a pencil and writing. Squeeze, pull, roll, and pinch play dough. Build with LEGOS. String beads. Sort small toys using salad tongs. Stay cool by squeezing spray bottles and getting each other wet, all while developing hand strength! Don’t forget that hand strength also depends on core strength. Do animal walks and wheelbarrow walks, or color while lying on the floor to strengthen the arms, as well as the core. Strong hands will make for stronger writers!
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Abby Brayton-Chung, MS, OTR/L is a pediatric occupational therapist with five years of experience evaluating and treating children ages birth to eighteen. Her work experience includes school based practice, early intervention and feeding therapy. Abby lives in Southern California with her husband and their precocious cat. Some of her favorite occupations include running, hiking, reading a good book, traveling, and eating good food. Abby blogs about her experiences as a pediatric occupational therapist at www.abbypediatricot.blogspot.com.
For more ideas on ways to keep your children active, creative or messy this summer, visit www.notimeforflashcards.com.
- 5 Ways an Occupational Therapist Can Help Your Child – Ruth L. Snyder (earlyyearssuccess.com)